Biden ‘religious freedom’ official pushes egalitarian Western Wall deal, silent on Temple Mount ban on Jews

Critic questions why Religious Freedom Ambassador declined to call for mixed-gender prayer in Al Aqsa Mosque.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

A senior member of the Biden administration called for Israel to implement the so-called Western Wall compromise, which would see the creation of an officially sanctioned mixed-gender prayer space at the holy site in Jerusalem.

“I visited the Western Wall for the first time today and met with Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz,” wrote U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain on Twitter this week.

“I reiterated U.S. support for implementation of the 2016 Western Wall agreement to expand the egalitarian space at the Wall.”

Notably, Hussain did not mention the ongoing issue of Jews being denied freedom of worship at the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

“Anything about implementing greater access for Jews to the Temple Mount?” Arsen Ostrovsky, a legal scholar and founder of pro-Israel lawfare NGO, asked Hussain in a follow-up to the tweet.

Administered by the Jordanian Waqf organization, Jews are officially banned from praying at the compound and are restricted to visiting the site during limited hours, under the supervision of armed security forces.

“Since [Hussain] was in the Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday for Ramadan, I’m sure that during his visit he advocated for a mixed gender section for Islamic men and women to pray together,” Joel Petlin, a writer and the Superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District, replied to the statement about the compromise. “But strangely enough, I didn’t see a Tweet about it.”

Currently, the Western Wall is under the control of the Israeli rabbinate, which means prayers at the site follow the standards of Orthodox Judaism. There is a partition (mechitzah) which separates men and women at the site.

In 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall, which would be permitted to operate and hold prayer services not under the auspices of Israel’s Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinical authorities. However, due to pressure from his Haredi coalition partners, Netanyahu later shelved the agreement, while never officially canceling it.

It’s unclear what triggered Hussain’s comment pushing for the official implementation of the compromise.

While the compromise has been discussed by Reform and Conservative Diaspora Jewish groups and is an issue disputed between the rabbinical authorities and left-wing Jewish movements in Israel, Sunday’s tweet marked the first time that a Biden administration official had weighed in on the issue.

Representatives from the Biden administration, including U.S Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, have broken previous policy to avoid expressing opinions regarding internal Israeli politics and social issues.